By Steve Silverman
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The New York Rangers have been miserable, but at least they have hope of turning it around and saving their season.
The New York Islanders are a different story. They were on the cusp of authoring a great story last spring when they made the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, and they had the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins on the run.
John Tavares and his offensive mates were tormenting Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the point where he was benched and the Islanders had every chance to put the top-seeded Penguins out of the playoffs.
The series was tied 2-2 and while they lost the fifth game in Pittsburgh, they outplayed the Penguins in the sixth game. However, they did not force a seventh game. They lost in overtime because of their own shortcomings in goal.
Evgeni Nabokov was awful in the series (4.44 goals against average and .842 save percentage) and general manager Garth Snow should have realized that. If the Islanders had gotten decent goaltending, they would have beaten the Penguins.
Instead of shopping for a new goaltender, the Islanders gave Nabokov a new contract. Nabokov signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal and he is back in goal and performing poorly with a 3.04 GAA and a .900 save percentage.
However, that’s not all on Nabokov. He showed what he could do in the most important games last year. He is simply playing to that level.
It’s on Snow, who did nothing to help his promising team improve. The Islanders had a lot of areas that needed to get better in the offseason, and goaltender was one of them.
Where were the Islanders last summer when Ray Emery became a free agent?
Emery had shared the goaltending duties for the Chicago Blackhawks last year with Corey Crawford. The Blackhawks had a record-setting regular season and Emery was one of the key reasons the Blackhawks went through their first 24 games without tasting a regulation defeat. Emery had a 1.94 goals against average and a .922 save percentage.
The Philadelphia Flyers recognized Emery’s skill and signed him to a free-agent contract. He put his signature on a one-year, $1.65 million deal.
The Islanders are paying nearly twice as much for Nabokov than the Flyers are paying for Emery. Emery, 31, is seven years younger than Nabokov.
While there are issues in goal for the Islanders, there are also significant problems on the blue line. After their playoff run was over, the Islanders capitulated and traded defenseman Mark Streit to the Philadelphia Flyers just as his contract was running out.
Since Streit was becoming a free agent, the Islanders figured that getting something for their best all-around defenseman was better than nothing. Something turned out to be a prospect named Shane Harper and a fourth-round draft pick.
Streit subsequently signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the Flyers. Why couldn’t the Islanders have made an offer to a player who was so valuable? Snow has never explained that.
The Islanders were the up-and-coming NHL team last season. They made the playoffs, had a legitimate MVP candidate in Tavares and appeared to be climbing the ladder.
However, they did nothing to help themselves in the offseason and they have fallen into a deep, dark hole. They are in 15th place in the Eastern Conference (second from the bottom), and last year’s playoff appearance is becoming a distant memory.
Head coach Jack Capuano looks beleaguered behind the Islanders’ bench, but it is not his fault. He knows how to coach, but he has not been dealt a decent hand.
Snow needs to be held responsible for the mess this team has become.
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